Colin Macleod

Colin Macleod untimely death has just been reported. He was a lecturer in Greek and Latin literature at Oxford, and a scholar of high attainments who will be greatly missed. A Commentary on the ‘Iliad’ Book 24 is to be published soon by Cambridge.


Colin Macleod, 21 January 1982

Readers of literary weeklies and reviews need no reminding that writers’ lives seem often to be considered more palatable or more piquant than their writings; and there are those for whom a biography is a fitting end. The great authors of ancient Greece will never find biographers, simply because the material is not there: luckily perhaps, since they are thus freer to flit, alive, through the minds of posterity. But modern historians have persistently tried – if not to compose the life – to re-create the experience of Thucydides. We can understand them. The History of the Peloponnesian War is not only, in the author’s own words, ‘something to keep for ever’, but a lifetime’s work, and an unfinished one; and he himself lived through the period which was his theme. There are apparent strains and tensions and unevennesses in it, which may be partly because different passages were composed in different phases of the author’s thinking and existence. But after many decades of scholarly activity, there is still no agreement about the genesis of Thucydides’s history. No wonder. The work does not tell the tale of its own formation; and what may be explained by hypotheses about the author’s experience may often be explained no less well, or better, by other means.

Homer’s Gods

Colin Macleod, 6 August 1981

Historia locuta est. Sed historiae obloquitur ipse vates et contra testatur sensus legentis’ (History has spoken. But the poet’s own words answer back, and the reader’s impression adds its dissenting voice). This eloquent transition in F.A. Wolf’s Prolegomena to his edition of Homer (1795) might stand as the motto and the problem of Homeric studies ever since. Wolf, who was the first to examine seriously how the Iliad and Odyssey came down to us, thought that such long and complex works could not have been composed in an illiterate age and that they showed signs of their disunity. Wolf expressed himself firmly, but with some trepidation; and in fact he did not deal in any breadth or depth with the larger problems posed by the text. But after him scholars set with a will to the work of ‘analysis’, seeking out evidence of multiple authorship, confident that history had routed literary criticism for good. Yet even the analysts remained loyal at least to the notion of Homer, for they took themselves to be relieving the masterworks of later accretions; and if they claimed to be working as historians, a historian of the 19th century might now find their view of Homer and his audience all too close to the attitudes or aberrations of that time. The early Greeks, who did not have the benefits of scientific enlightenment and technical progress, had to be primitive; and so their poets could not be credited with any kind of artistry which challenged the understanding.

Homer’s Skill

Hugh Lloyd-Jones, 2 September 1982

The thorough understanding of a difficult text, even of one written in one’s own language, may be made far easier by a good commentary. Eliot himself provided, if not a commentary, useful...

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